What are the best books about Oscar Wilde? A curated reading list

If you’re interested in learning about Oscar Wilde’s life and works, where should you start? There are so many books about the Irish wit and playwright that deciding which one to pick up first can seem like a daunting task. And then, if you want to learn more, which books should make your ‘must read’ pile?

While researching Wilde for my book Oscar Wilde: The Complete Interviews and for articles for The Wildean I’ve worked my way through scores of books about Wilde. Many were fascinating; others I could safely have missed.

Now I want to pass on that experience and save you the time and effort of having to judge which books you should begin with. That way you can skip straight to doing what you want to do: reading about Wilde.

You might be able to find some of these books at libraries and book shops, but it is also worth searching on the Internet Archive.

Cradle-to-grave biographies

Oscar: A Life by Matthew Sturgis

Oscar’s Books by Thomas Wright

If you read only one book about Wilde it should be Matthew Sturgis’s cradle-to-grave biography Oscar: A Life (2018). General readers can choose between the 2018 UK edition published by Head of Zeus and the 2021 US edition from Knopf (titled Oscar Wilde: A Life), but I recommend the UK edition for scholars because the US edition is lightly edited for length.

Richard Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde (UK, 1987; US, 1988), often described as ‘magisterial’, is well-written but riddled with factual errors. It is worth reading, but I advise caution when citing it, especially on points of fact. Scholars should always consult it alongside a copy of Horst Schroeder’s Additions and Corrections to Richard Ellmann’s Oscar Wilde (2nd ed., 2002). I have not spotted any differences in content between the UK and US editions, but page numbering does differ – something to be aware of when citing the book.

Of the many other full life biographies of Wilde, the only one I recommend is Hesketh Pearson’s Oscar Wilde (1948). Although out of date, the book has a solid reputation among Wildeans. It is the first biography that could be argued to be even remotely objective. Pearson met with several people who had known Wilde, which gives him a proximity to his subject that later biographers can’t match.

Although not a biography in the conventional sense, Thomas Wright’s Oscar’s Books: A Journey Around the Library of Oscar Wilde (UK, 2009), aka Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde (US, 2009) is a must read. Wright tells the story of Wilde’s life through his reading. This is no gimmick but a tremendously insightful way of approaching Wilde, for whom books were so important. It is my favourite book about Wilde and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Early biographies

Wilde’s friends Robert Sherard and Frank Harris, and his lover Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas, wrote a number of books about Wilde. As one might expect, they are extremely partisan. They are also unreliable, rambling, and frequently dull. They are useful references for scholars, but general readers can skip them: any information of value they contain has been incorporated into the more modern biographies.

Focussed biographies

Wilde’s life was brief – he died aged 46 – but crammed with event. Biographers have often delved deeper with books that focus on a short period of that life. Here are some of the better examples.

The lecturer

Wilde in America by David M. Friedman

Oscar Wilde’s Scandalous Summer by Antony Edmonds

Oscar Wilde on Trial by Joseph Bristow

Oscar’s Ghost by Laura Lee

In 1882, at the age of 27, Wilde embarked on an almost year long lecture tour of North America. A handful of books have been written about his American adventure. The best is David M. Friedman’s Wilde in America (2014). But the most useful resource on this topic is John Cooper’s website, oscarwildeinamerica.org, which hosts a verified list of all Wilde’s lectures and all known photographs of Wilde taken by Napoleon Sarony in New York.

Also worth a read is Kevin O’Brien’s Oscar Wilde in Canada (1982), which contains Wilde’s lectures reconstructed from newspaper reports (these are more detailed than versions published from Wilde’s manuscripts).

The only book about Wilde’s subsequent lecture tours of the UK and Ireland is Geoff Dibb’s Oscar Wilde: A Vagabond with a Mission (2013). It is an indispensable reference for this period of Wilde’s life. Dibb follows O’Brien in reconstructing several of Wilde’s lectures.

The playwright

Although Wilde’s literary reputation is based, in large part, on his work as a dramatist, the only biography to deal exclusively with this period is Oscar Wilde’s Scandalous Summer (2014) by Antony Edmonds. This book tells the story of the 1894 holiday in Worthing, during which Wilde wrote The Importance of Being Earnest.

The trials

In 1895 Wilde prosecuted Bosie’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, for libel. The transcript of the trial, edited by Merlin Holland, has been published in the UK as Irish Peacock and Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde (2003) and in the US as The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde (2003).

The most reliable and thorough account of Wilde’s two trials for gross indecency is Joseph Bristow’s Oscar Wilde on Trial: The Criminal Proceedings, from Arrest to Imprisonment (2022). The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1948, rep. 1973) by H. Montgomery Hyde, for several decades the most accessible examination of the trials, should now be skipped.


H. Montgomery Hyde’s Oscar Wilde: The Aftermath (1963) is the only book to focus on Wilde’s two years in prison. It can be considered optional as Sturgis deals comprehensively with the period in his full life biography, but Hyde’s book is handy for its additional context on the late Victorian prison system.

Final years

Nicholas Frankel’s Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years (2017) follows Wilde from his release from prison in 1897 to his death in Paris in 1900. This book counters the prevalent belief that Wilde’s final years were unremittingly bleak and tragic.


Laura Lee’s Oscar’s Ghost (2017) is a meticulously researched investigation of the battle over Wilde’s posthumous legacy and is highly recommended.

Wilde’s circle

Biographers have also treated of many of the key figures in Wilde’s circle. Some of these people have multiple biographies, and it’s not always the case that the most recent is the best. My picks, in no particular order, are:

  • Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde (2011) by Franny Moyle
  • Wilde’s Devoted Friend: A Life of Robert Ross 1869–1918 (1990) by Maureen Borland
  • Bosie: A Biography of Lord Alfred Douglas (2000) by Douglas Murray
  • Mother of Oscar: The Life of Jane Francesca Wilde (1994) by Joy Melville
  • Marie Prescott: A Star of Some Brilliancy (2009) by Kevin Lane Dearinger
  • The Marquess of Queensberry: Wilde’s Nemesis (2013) by Linda Stratmann
  • Wilde’s Women: How Oscar Wilde was Shaped by the Women he Knew (2015) by Eleanor Fitzsimons

Wilde’s writings

The best scholarly edition of Wilde’s writings is the complete works in OUP’s Oxford English Texts series. Publication began in 2000 and at the time of writing is still ongoing. The volumes in this edition are prohibitively expensive for the individual, but can be found in most major libraries. You might also check if your library subscribes to Oxford Scholarly Editions Online, a database that includes digital versions of each volume.

The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde edited by Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis

The Collins Complete Works of Oscar Wilde is the standard single volume edition of Wilde’s works. It has been continuously in print since 1948. There have been some changes in the content over the years (for example, the 1994 edition introduced the four-act version of The Importance of Being Earnest), so a newer edition would be preferable to an older.

I also recommend The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition (2011) edited by Nicholas Frankel, and The Importance of Being Earnest: The First Production (1995) edited by Joseph Donohue and Ruth Berggren. Both are large format books that are edited to a high scholarly standard, but are also easy and enjoyable to read because contextual notes and illustrations are displayed alongside the text.

The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde (2000) edited by Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis is an essential resource for the scholar. General readers may be satisfied with Holland’s Oscar Wilde: A Life in Letters (2003), a selection of the more interesting letters.


I will dispense with false modesty and recommend my own Oscar Wilde: The Complete Interviews (two volumes, 2022). E. H. Mikhail’s Oscar Wilde: Interviews and Recollections (two volumes, 1979) is also worth consulting for the recollections.

Literary scholarship

There are a great many books about various aspects of Wilde’s career as a writer. Their usefulness will largely depend upon a reader’s own needs. But here are a few books that I have found interesting and useful in my own research.

Stuart Mason’s Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (1914) remains a mandatory reference for scholars more than a century after it was compiled.

As useful as it has been influential is Karl Beckson’s Oscar Wilde: The Critical Heritage (1970), a collection of reviews of Wilde’s books and plays.

Oscar Wilde by John Sloan

Oscar Wilde by Katharine Worth

In Oscar Wilde’s Profession: Writing and the Culture Industry in the Late Nineteenth Century (2000) Josephine M. Guy and Ian Small make the case that Wilde should be thought of as a jobbing writer whose primary motivation was to make money. This book is expensive, but if your library subscribes to Oxford Scholarship Online you can read a digital version. Also recommended are Small’s surveys of research on Wilde, Oscar Wilde Revalued (1993) and Oscar Wilde: Recent Research (2000), and Small and Guy’s Studying Oscar Wilde (2006), all of which are available to read for free via Project Muse.

John Sloan’s Oscar Wilde (2003), in the Authors in Context series from Oxford World’s Classics, is a clear-eyed analysis of the context in which the author lived and worked. I highly recommend this book for those who are new to the study of Wilde and late nineteenth-century history.

Katharine Worth’s Oscar Wilde (1983) is a brief book about all of Wilde’s plays, packed with insights for students and stage directors alike. Less easily accessible, but one of the best works I have read on Wilde’s plays, is Ellen Berland’s unpublished doctoral thesis Form and Content in The Plays of Oscar Wilde (1970). You can find it on ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global, a database your library might subscribe to (I access it from home using my British Library reader card). And Oscar Wilde and the Theatre of the 1890s (2009) by Kerry Powell is useful for viewing Wilde’s work as a dramatist in the context of other plays that were being performed when he was most successful.

Salome (1996) by William Tydeman and Steven Price is a study of Wilde’s only French play. It serves as a production history, with much detail on the various stagings of the play in the decades after Wilde’s death.

Edited books and journals

There are a number of edited books about Wilde, with chapters written by different scholars. Those I have found most useful and informative are:

  • The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde (1997) edited by Peter Raby
  • Wilde Writings: Contextual Conditions (2003) edited by Joseph Bristow
  • Oscar Wilde in Context (2013) edited by Kerry Powell and Peter Raby
  • Wilde Discoveries: Traditions, Histories, Archives (2013) edited by Joseph Bristow
  • Oscar Wilde and Classical Antiquity (2017) edited by Kathleen Riley, Alastair J. L. Blanshard, and Iarla Manny

Research on Wilde is published in a number of academic journals and searching in the usual places (e.g. Google Scholar, Project Muse, JStor) will turn up most of what has been published. As a general rule, research on Wilde’s work tends to be published in literary journals while research on his life is published in The Wildean. The latter is published online on JStor with a moving wall of three years; for more recent issues of the journal you will have to subscribe to the Oscar Wilde Society.


There are many good books about Wilde that I haven’t included in this list, and omission should not be taken as evidence that I dislike a book or recommend against reading it. This list is only intended as a signpost for those who have yet to begin their journey into Wilde studies, or, having begun that journey, feel overwhelmed by the masses of material that must be read or discarded. If I have missed anything you think should be included in this list, feel free to get in touch.